John Hersker Before It Was The Kirby

Newsmaker Interviews
Thursday, January 18th

NEPA native John Hersker joins WILK's Sue Henry to talk about an upcoming movie event. “Before the Kirby was the Kirby,” is a 12-part, monthly film series which will celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the FM Kirby Center by going back to its beginning, when it was a movie theatre.  The premiere is Jan 26 with the showing of "The Molly Maguires" which had its world premiere at the Kirby, then called the Paramount Theatre in 1970.  The series in in conjunction with Flashback Cinema.


Transcript - Not for consumer use. Robot overlords only. Will not be accurate.

Lights camera action. Yes indeed I love to talk about the movies and plastic I had the opportunity to meet. John Hersh there in person. In wilkes-barre. Her scare now say screwed it up already because I was thinking it too much her skirt like it's spelled right John that's correct why am I like fast you know. It's it's it's probably too early it's too early I told John that sometimes people say my name is hindering him and it's not that way but I blame Peter noon. As well we showed Trent that's right John it's great to see you it it it was great to seal last week and so glad you're in town. And I'm glad that we can talk about something that we all love which is movies and to me that's so important through your whole life. Since you're Childs. You must've loved movies because of the the industries that your fail it was and I. Have always loved movies and I still love movies are huge part of my life I grew up working in a movie theater my parents are owned. Feeder in west hazel in Pennsylvania there her school theater it's still they are all the my family doesn't own it. But it's still operating as a cinema draft house. But that Peter was my home growing up I worked in that I watched movies every chance I got and grew up loving movies and loving movies in theaters. This year earliest recollection of being in that theater. Well because. That we lived literally next door to the theater our house was right next door. I would C sections of movies so. I don't have one movie that I remember as my first movie but I have vivid memories of gold finger with James Bond and it made me wanna be a secret agent allowed a little secret compartments and she used for you know tracking devices and so on I remember the music man. You know a lot of movies from the sixties. And of course in those days movies would be re released. Because they weren't shown on television so I got to enjoy some of the movies that it actually. Played before I was born but I loved watching all kinds of movies and as I got older became a teenager movies like the godfather and so forth. We're big part of my hampering. Its. And none of the godfather if I remember correctly does come back to figure into your transition into your professional life. Where you did pursue a career in the film industry very successfully. May I add. Well yes I've been very fortunate two to be able to make a living. In the movie industries and silent movie so much. When I graduated high school from MI preparatory school and moved away from here to go to college. And my my mom sold business at that point. I still wanted to be in the movie business and I ended up going back working as a theater manager in the end. I've got a job in the sales department of Paramount Pictures. Which at that time had branch offices all over the country and I started out in the Philadelphia branch office. Worked my way up the corporate ladder and then got two eventually work at the Paramount studios in Hollywood which for a little kid from west haseltine. Who remember taking tickets and in selling candy it is it is appearance movie theater was just incredible experience. I can only imagine what it was like when you went there and how excited you were what was it like when they said John would like you to come out and work. At our facility in California what did you pinch yourself what was ailing automotive tell fur. Absolutely I pitched myself but it was something I'd been hoping for for a long time because. All of us in the company who are out in the field as we called ourselves and at that time I was working in the Dallas Texas branch office. Now we all knew that the heart of the company in the industry really was in Hollywood and I had visited the studio in Hollywood many times and and I just loved walking around hadn't thought of being there was incredible. And ironically. The head of distribution of Paramount to who really became a kind of mentor to me. Once I got to LA but didn't know me real well at the time mass somebody I found out later do you think John would be willing to move to LA. Which now strikes me is it's even then struck me as being very funny because I couldn't wait to Delhi and I couldn't wait to work and that ought. Now in that lot you wanna talk about where your offices were located and some of the storied history of Paramount in terms of from where you were every day at your gas. Well Heidi every day in my desk. I guys several offices in the in the distribution to hoping that the theatrical distribution division as when I was part of we licensed movies to theaters I was not in the creative side we were more of the business. And the distribution building. Which was the newest building on the lot was a four story building and the office that I eventually got. Not overlook the Hollywood sign and so every day I commitment sit in my desk to work out the Hollywood sign first to having driven through the gates the same gates that Norma Desmond a glorious once and rice threw in some support. I would drive thru every day in and go upstairs and and look around the Hollywood sign but actually for a brief period I had a temporary office. He and a building one of the older buildings called the dryer building which was actually the building that in Sunset Boulevard. And in the movie Sunset Boulevard. William Holden Nancy Olson working on a script and they walk around the studio lot at night and building that they worked on the script and as the dryer building so I actually got to work for a period of time in that building and that was that was great fun for. I can only imagine and you you really do have such an affinity and a passion for the movies so it's. Great to see somebody who back to literally live. Their dream in and work in man stood capacity day eat your work is now with Paramount anymore abuse still. Have a great connection. To that Dan golden age of movie making through the company that you for a day which I think is also. Awesome as well. Well yes I actually why I left Paramount Pictures. To go back on the feeder side because believe it or not my dream as a as a kid was not to work for movie studio my dream was to operate movie theaters. As my dad had done in my grandfather and my great grandfather before them so that was always my dream and my goal as I said my mother and sold the business. And I wanna get back into the theater sides so when I left Paramount Pictures after 26 years I ran a chain of movie theaters for awhile called movie tyrant. That was headquartered in Dallas Texas but then we grew the company we sold it and that's when I decide to move back to Pennsylvania. And the company that you're talking about now that Iran is called flashbacks and and it's a company that markets and programs classic movies for first run movie theaters to show. In their theaters along with all the new first run movies they show twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays. They show a classic film that I selected and I promote and I'm market and I do an on screen introduction fork. So I'm still doing my best to get people to go to movies to see theaters but now the movies I'm focused on those great classic movies that. That everybody remembers from their childhood which they may not have seen in a theater because they may have experienced these movies and television and so forth but. Hi I'm a firm believer that the best place to see in movies and theater and that's what flashbacks cinema does it brings classic movies to theaters so the people can have that experience. Because there's nothing like that to see something on a screen that big an end when we were talking you mentioned. Like the sound of music EC NN your television in Maine and that's the only way you've never seen it though when you see it on that screen it's just. She'll drop things. Well I I think ironically. Because of all the ways that we have to see movies now. Whether on our. There's TV screens or honor our phones are our laptops we need to theatrical experience more than ever because. We're so distracted you know you watch a movie at home on television and the phone rings you're checking your emails on your Smartphone or something else is going on. But there's something about that theatrical experience has not only the size of the screen but the fact that your in darkness. You're not looking at your phone you're not checking your emails. And you're sitting with other people who appreciate that experience. So yes you sound a music's a great example when Julie Andrews comes out says singing those majestic Austrian Alps. There's nothing like it and there's also the factor with a comedy people are laughing when you're laughing if you're watching cycle people jump when you jump. And movies were always intended and release still are intended by the people who make them to be a communal experience a sheer experience. And I even though filmmakers have embraced new technology. Most of them will tell you they would prefer repeat our people see their movies in a feeder in the dark without distractions and with other people nearby to share that experience. Which brings us to a great series that will be at the FM Kirby center in Wilkes-Barre before the Kirby was the Kirby. The building. Opened in 1938. And I know you know a little bit of the history. Of what it was then the calmer for theater you know a little bit about does stylistically. How that was devised and I'm what a beautiful venue was then and still is today. Well nineteen. 38 the late 1930 saw a kind of resurgence in movie theater construction and there have been a boom of movie theater building in the 1920s which is when most of the great movie palaces. We're built. But of course the depression. Hurt the whole economy and hurt moviegoing actually but by the late thirties the economy was coming back the movie business was coming back. And new cedars are being built up by the late 1930s they were tended to be built more in the art Deco style and streamline very moderate looking style and the cover for the theater. Which opened in 1938 as you sent a public square is a great example that it's architecturally as an art Deco jam. When you got to see when you when you came home. She think about the curb center at first glance this must have been thrilling for somebody like you who loves movie theaters. Well it is very thrilling because I know how most of the great movie theaters to a single screen palaces. That those of us are old enough remember from or use how most of those theaters are gone they've replaced by the modern multiplex theaters. Which are fine grade and I built a number when I was a movie tavern. But most of those cradle feeders of the lost and to have one preserved. The way that Kirby has been preserved. And not just for its architectural or historical value which is great. But to actually be a thriving performing arts center I mean the Kirby is a tremendous. Asset to the hold Paul northeastern Pennsylvania. And to have the wonderful acts that are present there the concerts this the stage shows. Is really. A wonderful thing. But. It's not what course with the Peter was designed for the theater was designed for movies and our whole idea with a series of before the Kirby was the Kirby. Was to get back a little bit to the theaters roots. And show movies once again in the in this setting in which they originally and have been intended to be seen. You're starting out with one man has close. Personal connection to many individuals who live here that would be the Molly McGuire such was up Paramount movie. That has a connection to a guy that was a very generous benefactor and a graduate of King's College mr. Burke. And there are people already who sent messages to meet today. That there grandparents so who's acted to as said the won't someone worth their grandfather was a chauffeur for some of the individuals were a number. Molly inquires because parts that were filmed here. So how did that come to be that that. Paramount movie. You being an alumnus of Paramount how did that come about. Well when. When we will be in the executive director Kirby enamored to ally and Lauren man who do great job marketing. The Kirby sooners advanced we all talked about doing this series is a way to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the feeder. We talked about how when to be great to show movies not just great classic movies but movies that had actually played at the feeder. I'm at some point in their history. And especially those movies that have especially strong connection to the theater. And when we started talking about that it was obvious that the and number one movie we had to show was the mauling acquires. Because the Molly Maguire as was not only filled in northeastern Pennsylvania but it had its world premiere. At the they and Paramount theater of the cover for theater which opened in 1930 it was renamed the Paramount in 1949. So in 1970 when Paramount Pictures was going to release this film that had been shot in northeastern Pennsylvania. They elected to have three simultaneous world premieres one in Scranton. One in hazel tend. Which is. The the closest you know city to where the movie was actually shot and act these miners at the miners are which. And then of course in walks bare. And the Paramount theater was selected and so that world premiere took place. On January 27. 1970. Andy was a gala event and of course the theater was packed it was a it was a tremendous interest of the community. And so we thought to since we're starting our series in January particularly. We would win a kickoff with a movie that had its world premiere at the Paramount theatre in 1970 and basketball in March. Talk about the significance of the god father in 1972. Judas theater. And she you. Well the godfather which there were going to be showing on Friday April 20 we should say that the the way the series is designed as we show a different classic movie every month. On a Friday at 1 o'clock and 730 so the law and requires a showing first on Friday January 26. And you mentioned the godfather. Which is going to show on Friday April 20. The godfather significance for the Paramount Peter walks here is that each no longer be played at the theater longer than any other movie. During the four decades in which the Kirby center was a movie theater that's from 1938 to 1977. Basically when the it was a movie theater. The god father opened in march of 1972. Set box office records. Have to pair of healthier and we'll experiment also went after Hurst whose feeder west haseltine Ra I was a kid working and we played the godfather and it was it was one of the great thrills of my childhood to be able to. Work at the theater during that movie. But the movie became the highest grossing movie of all time up to that point of relief cultural phenomenon. That is lasted to this day everybody knows all the quotes from the godfather are gonna make an offer he can't refuse and so forth. And it played to sellout crowds for many weeks. And at the term healthier and will spear. The film as I said opened in march of 72 and it played for a record thirteen weeks that's longer than any film had played before. Where than any film played after at the Paramount Peter and what to bear. And it finished its record setting engagement on June 20 1972. And everybody who is alive at that time and living in Wyoming Valley knows the significance. That the next day the waters of the Susquehanna River overflow. He was hurricane Agnes a tropical storm Magnus I guess at that point. And the Paramount theater like the rest of downtown were expert was flooded. So the godfather not only was a record center in terms of how long it played but it was the last movie to play at the Paramount theatre. Before the flawed and feeder did not reopen for another six months. You also mentioned to me that simultaneously. While the flood was impacting the Kirby something else was happening in the movie industry in Miami Valley. That was kind of changing its face I thought this is an amazing sort of perfect storm pardon upon of events that occurred that week in June of 1972 which I didn't realize. Until I had gone back and done some research on the on the cover for slash Paramount theatre. And that is that is the week that weakens June of 9072. That the general cinema twin fear opened at the Wyoming Valley mall. Now the significance of that is that. All over America in the early 1970s. Downtown movie palaces like the Paramount. Were be were being threatened competitively. By these news shopping center multiplex theaters that were opening up. In walks Ferrari had a gateway cinema which should open didn't and news in the 1960s. But the first multi screen teetered open was the general cinema women valley mall and that happened the same week the hurricane Agnes hit. And the same week that the Paramount theater was flooded and had to close. The general cinema twin open and a few weeks because it didn't suffer anywhere near the damaged the downtown looks fair but as I said it took the Paramount six months to reopen. And even though the Paramount would still play more hit movies and in the in the ensuing years the handwriting was sort of on the wall. That these multiplex theaters like Wyoming Valley mall were eventually going to be the demise of downtown single screen movie palaces like the parent. Showing the movie that it opens. The theater in 1938. Yes. When the cover for theater opened in August of 1938. It opened with Alexander's ragtime band which was a 20th Century Fox musical. Starring. Tyrone power and Alice Faye and John Amaechi. And so we're gonna be showing that movie in August on Friday August 24. And people be able to come and watch the first movie that ever showed tapped Peter. In the theater. I think in them and asked the audience because I don't know for sure but I think Alexander's. Ragtime band has a local connection. Whether there were people in that band for a local or not I'm not sure but I know there is some connection well one possible. Action is after united talked a little research on that I couldn't find any connection with the movie. But the opening was such a huge event such a milestone event in the city of Wilkes bare. That a crowd of it was reported anywhere between 181000. To 30000 people gathered in public square obviously only a fraction of that crowd got and see the movie. But on opening day they ran the movie five times they have these huge crowd the connection you may be thinking of is there was a band. Called Alexander's ragtime band that performed in public square. During the opening day festivities. And a B was issues event. For the city of walks spirit again remember the time it was the late 1930s. The depression been going on for a decade registering to pull out of it. People hadn't seen anything of this magnitude of beautiful these feeder in the Center City built in day in downtown built. And so it was a huge events that there was an actual band that played I don't know the origin of that span I know it's. It's it's talked about in the newspaper accounts of the opening of the theater. Okay well if anybody has any further clarity and that I'd love to hear it. John this is so great and I look forward to all of it out this series is called before the Kirby was the Kirby there's a movie every. Months of 2018. And had his some spectacular productions. And I I hope that a lot of people come out the price points are great to. That's a yes yes man Mays or 3 dollars in the evening as five dollars so you can't be can't beat the price 1930 pricing I'm not quite the actual 1938 pricing with fear open was a 35 cents in the afternoon for adults and 50 cents in the evening so there's a little bit. Of inflation near but not nearly what there has been in the economy in general. John is so great to talk to you I'm so glad you're here think that to you have a lot to offer our community and you will be. On hand at these before well isn't actually part of. Part of the flashbacks cinema program that we do that first run movie theaters is that each film is shown. With an on screen introduction which I provide. And I'll be doing the same for each showing of each of these classic movies at the Kirby center so will you be there I will be there as many times I can see. Because I'll always be there on screen introducing the movie. But more often than not I will also be there because I wanna see these movies. On the screen at the Kirby is many times I've seen the godfather I know I will get goosebumps to see it on the screen. In the theater where played back in 72 and the same with the sound of music and Sunset Boulevard in Wizard of Oz and all these other great films that. The played at the cover for or later the Paramount. And we're just so fortunate to have this venue this wonderful performing arts center and and now we are where are getting back to our recent and showing the movies that. Were the basis of the theaters success for all those years before the Kirby was the Kirby. Excellent and with the Molly McGuire is on on January 26 that will be the kick off at one and 730. So we invite people to come out the price points are tremendous and and John is grade I am so happy to meet him on and then last Friday for the first time he's just wonderful and has a lot to offer. Are can a solo welcome home John it's a great to say. You it's great to be a living back in to be living in looks fair and to be a part of the curb its it's an honor and a be part of this program thanks so much for having me today it is our pleasure.